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Conference organizer seeks to level the workplace playing field for military women

The upcoming Military Women Conference will turn the traditional pitch event on its heels.

More than a dozen participating companies will pitch to the expected 200 military spouses, veterans and active duty women at the May 17 conference at Sofwerx in Tampa. The companies will talk about their culture, and the benefits and flexibility they offer to workers.

Ingrid Harb, founder, Womens Ambassador Forum

The “prize” will be the opportunity to hire great talent, said Ingrid Harb, founder and president of Women Ambassadors Forum and the organizer of the Military Women Conference.

Military women have valuable skills but they are underserved and too often not part of the conversation when it comes to recruiting and hiring, Harb said. She expects the conference to change that.

“I want women to find jobs, I want women to say yes to their calling, and I want women in the military to be able to transition successfully,” Harb said.

The military creates leaders who can make difficult decisions in stressful circumstances, said Blakley Echeverry, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force who is now director of business development at Community Brands, a St. Petersburg software firm and the main title sponsor for the conference.

“Although we as veterans may struggle understanding civilian corporate culture or non-traditional chains of command, we’ve also been trained as collaborators and proven, disciplined leaders,” Echeverry said.

Core competencies such as respect, diligence, collaboration, intuition, understanding of procedures and big picture thinking are traits valued by Community Brands, Echeverry said.

“I’ve found the best way to spark change is through cultivating a thought incubator among members of a community to share ideas, knowledge and unique perspectives,” said JP Guilbault, president and CEO of Community Brands. “Supporting spaces specifically for military women will inspire these strong individuals to become change-agents –ultimately contributing to their growth and overall success in civilian life.”

Community Brands, Jabil (NYSE: JBL) in St. Petersburg and Tech Data (Nasdaq: TECD) in Clearwater are among the local companies that have hired military veterans and military spouses who will be featured on panel discussions at the Military Women Conference.

“What’s beautiful is they saw their potential,” Harb said. “They hired them even though their resume didn’t look like it was a fit.”

There is no such thing as the “perfect resume,” she added. Women too often feel they are not qualified, so they won’t apply for a job. In addition, the recruiting pipeline is limited.

“Every time many companies recruit people, they use the same pipeline. You cannot have equal representation of both genders if you are just recruiting from one pipeline,” Harb said. “So we are hoping to create an all-woman pipeline where we can level the playing field.”

There’s also a lineup of notable speakers, including the most recent addition, state Sen. Janet Cruz of Tampa. Action Zone, a Tampa nonprofit that provides tools for veterans to learn how to start and run their own business, and livingHR, a Tampa consulting firm, will offer workshops. Northeastern University, a Boston school with a long history of  educating military members and veterans, will talk about its scholarship program.

Registration information is here.

With the largest concentration of military personnel in Florida, Tampa is just the first location for what Harb hopes will be a series of Military Women Conferences. Her goal is to host the conference in every city with a military base, with Virginia and San Antonio next on her list.

 

Margie Manning

Margie started her journalism career as a radio news reporter in St. Louis, before putting down her microphone and picking up a pen to work at the St. Louis Business Journal. Unable to resist the call of warm weather and beaches, Margie took an entrepreneurial detour to run an ice cream shop in Treasure Island with her husband. Before joining the Catalyst, Margie spent 14 years at the Tampa Bay Business Journal where she wrote about business successes, failures and the exciting world of innovation and start-ups. Her writing coaches are Bonnie the Dog and Coffee the Cat.

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